When the words “museum” and “Florence” are combined, most think of the Uffizi and/or the Academia. But very few seem to think of the Bargello, also called the Museo Nazionale del Bargello – just a few minutes north-east of the Uffizi and much cheaper and much less crowded. It has quickly become one of my favorite museums in Florence and the only one I have visited twice since I have been here.
It seems to be a little underrated by tourists (based on lack of crowds in March even when there are lines for the Uffizi) and more popular with Italian school classes. But it has much to offer. The building is from 1255, when it was the city’s town hall, and thus the oldest seat of government surviving in present-day Florence. The look is very similar to the Palazzo Vecchio on the outside, but smaller. The building was also used as the residence for the chief of police and a prison. In 1865, it became one of the first national museums of Italy. The building itself with its courtyard and painted ceilings is worth a quick visit but the sculptures are the reason to linger and appreciate it as museum.
The Bargello houses the sculpture entitled “Bacchus” by Michelangelo (from 1497 and thus his first major work). Sure, his “David” is amazing, but this sculpture also has incredible details and with the lack of crowds, it is possible to actually get close, sit down and spend some time observing the details. I was especially fascinated by the small details of the skin folds on the heel of the sculpture and the seemingly rougher callouses on the bottom of the heel.
The same room also houses several more works by Michelangelo as well as the bronze “Mercury” by Giambologna from 1564. The courtyard includes several sculptures such as a reconstructed large fountain that was designed for the Room of 500 in the Palazzo Vecchio but was never installed there.
Other highlights of the museum include the bronze “David” by Donatello from 1450, the first nude statue by a Western artist since Classical times. It is a very different portrayal of David compared to Michelangelo’s. Just as there are several sculptures of David, there ar also several portrayals of Bacchus, the god of wine, and it is fascinating to see how the portrayal of the same character changes based on artist and time but also what elements or traits seem to be more permanently associated with this character.
In addition to sculptures, the museum includes the competition panel by Brunelleschi for the Baptistry as well as arms, porcelain, religious items, and much more on three floors.
One of the reasons the museum might be overlooked by some is because of its opening hours: 8:15 AM – 1:50 PM daily but closed on some Sundays and some Mondays as well. Some websites mention that the museum is open till 4 or 5, but that is not true it seems. The Bargello has one of the cheapest entrance fees with 4 Euro (2 Euro reduced) and is thus cheaper than many museums and churches that house much less important work but also seem to be more crowded. For more information, see the museum’s website. I still have not come close to seeing everything in Florence, but I am still tempted to come back to the Bargello before I return to the Uffizi.